20 Jun

Exploring RHS Hyde Hall

Discover brown hares, crab apples, and fantastic panoramic views of the Essex countryside; the RHS Hyde Hall Garden is a fine example of a constantly evolving outdoor space. With some exciting horticultural projects underway, the garden is known for its outstanding developments, but none of it would be here today without the 1950s housewife who started it all…

If you ask any experienced garden designer where the best place to learn about plants might be, they are likely to suggest a visit to the RHS Gardens at Hyde Hall. It’s not too far from our Essex showroom, so well worth a visit if you’re coming to see us. With woodland gardens, pond borders, island beds, an eclectic international vegetable patch, and a learning centre, it’s ideal for students, garden lovers, and budding horticulturalists alike.

New Education Centre at Hyde Hall – RHS / Tim Sandall

The most astounding thing is that, if it were not for the determination of a 1950s housewife, the spectacular RHS Hyde Hall Gardens may never have taken root. Dr and Mrs Robinson moved to Hyde Hall Farm in 1955, which was then a working thatched farm in the village of Rettendon surrounded by wheat fields in the heart of the Essex countryside.

From challenging beginnings…

Looking out across her new home on the top of the wind-swept hill, Mrs Robinson despaired at the surrounding gravel-covered landscape littered with farming debris and rubble, taking in its sticky clay earth and dry conditions. The exposed site had claggy, poorly drained soil and only six trees grew on the top of the hill, with a small patch of rough grass around the farmhouse. Most people would have accepted the bleak garden as it was, but not Mrs Robinson. With steely resolve, she began to tackle the mammoth task, working on the scraggly landscape bit by bit.

Cleaning the land around the house was arduous and time-consuming work but the refuse, brambles and scrub were eventually removed and the clay soil was gradually improved with quantities of animal manure, mushroom, and bark compost. It’s funny how things work out, but the challenging growing conditions only spurred the Robinsons on, visiting flower shows in search of plants that could survive in their difficult garden. Although it wasn’t their initial intention, they became known for their expert and specialist horticultural knowledge.

Grasses in the Winter Garden in autumn at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. RHS / Joanna Kossak

Herbaceous borders, rose beds, and vegetable gardens appeared, and 60 young trees were planted across the farm. As work progressed, Hyde Hall started to reveal its secrets; at the back of the house, Mrs Robinson discovered the Tudor brick floor of an old stable under a pile of old household rubbish and soil. This was excavated to become a natural pavement garden.

The Farmhouse Garden in Summer at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. RHS / Lee Beel

The RHS takes over…

The Robinsons left their beloved garden to the RHS in 1993, who continue to develop the space with forward-thinking ideas and concepts. There’s a new Global Growth Vegetable Garden, designed by Xa Tollemache and centred on an octagonal Hartley Botanic glasshouse, which houses ornamental and exotic vegetables.

Image Credit: The Global Growth Garden prior to opening in 2017. RHS/ Mark Winwood

A reservoir was built to help improve irrigation, and over 80,000 saplings were planted to create a fully-fledged woodland surrounding the site. A Dry Garden the size of a tennis court was added in 2001, comprising of over 8,000 plants with drought-tolerant characteristics.  

The Dry Garden in summer at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. RHS / Mark Winwood

Managed by expert Matthew Williamson, the Dry Garden is heralded as one of the best examples of xeriscaping, a new eco-friendly gardening trend where you design your garden to need as little watering as possible. Inspired by American gardens and spurred on by the effects of last summer’s heatwave, homeowners are keen to save on water and are planting succulents, building rock gardens, and gravelling over their grassy lawns. The Dry Garden at Hyde Hall has not been watered since 2001, happily surviving on the natural rainfall alone, with plenty of gravel and other hard landscaping products helping to reflect the sun back to the heat-loving plants.

The Dry Garden in summer at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. RHS / Lee Beel

At the beginning of the year, the RHS released a list of 10 beautiful plants that can survive in very dry conditions. The colourful magenta Rock Rose, aromatic Rosemary and Lavender, pretty Russian Sage, and the yellow Spanish Broom are some fantastic options to include. It results in a low-maintenance and environmentally friendly outdoor space.

When to visit Hyde Hall

Although the gardens are spectacular at any time, you will be in for a treat if you visit during the autumn season. With crab apple trees, jolly pumpkin displays, and colourful borders, the RHS Hyde Hall garden comes into its own and it is certainly worth seeing at that time of year.

Image credit: Sculptures in the Winter Garden, RHS Hyde Hall. November 2017. RHS/ Mark Winwood

Over in the Robinson Garden, a range of trees take on a riot of burnt orange and reds, including the Raywood and Liquidambar trees. Evergreen antipodean plants provide a year-round display over in the Australian and New Zealand garden, and South African root crops are ready for harvesting in the Global Growth Vegetable Garden.

The Australia and New Zealand Garden in autumn at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. RHS / Joanna Kossak

It’s worth keeping an eye on the events section of their website. The guided Curator’s Summer Garden Walk is particularly popular with plant enthusiasts, but there is a wide range of tours and courses available throughout the year.

Image Credit: Amy Gill putting the finishing touches to the floral display that overhangs the main entrance. RHS/ Mark Winwood

The RHS Garden Hyde Hall Flower Show runs from the 31st July – 4th August and provides a low-key event, ideal for those who love gardens but don’t care for the crowds at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. For more information, visit www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/hyde-hall


Main Image Credit: The Cottage Garden in summer at RHS Garden Hyde Hall. RHS / Lee Beel